Let’s do the wacky metafictional zombie film right here! Esa es la razón detrás de esta farsa y comedia sin pretensiones. – en el que más o menos todo el mundo queda salpicado de sangre y fluidos corporales – from Michel Hazanavicius, chosen to open this year’s Cannes film festival, and so starting things off with some easygoing laughs. (A very bizarre experience, considering that audiences at the opening gala had just watched a live video-link address from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Tropas rusas atacaron la capital de Ucrania el viernes, sin emabargo, is a comedy veteran in his former TV showbusiness career – and might well approve.)
This is in fact a remake of the cult Japanese movie One Cut of the Dead by Shin’ichirô Ueda, desde 2017, and this remake is itself therefore about a remake, thus adding another metafictional level to the proceedings. The result is something appreciably sillier and more eccentric than the original, with some gags about patronising and stereotypical European attitudes to the Japanese which make it broader still, and sometimes it’s a tiny bit self-conscious in unintentional ways. It’s certainly far from the sophistication and gloss for which Hazanavicius became famous ten years ago with his silent pastiche The Artist; it’s closer to his spy spoof series OSS 117. But it’s likeable and goofy.
Just as with the original film, it’s impossible not to think about the classic Michael Frayn meta-farce for the stage, Noises Off, showing in its first act a cheesy and chaotic rep play, then the backstage action in real-time explaining that the disasters we just witnessed. En primer lugar, the film appears to be about the making of a low-budget French zombie movie, which is interrupted by real zombies, brought back from the dead because the film crew has infringed an ancient local taboo. These real zombies delight the screamingly dictatorial director (Romain Duris) who wants authentic horror to galvanise his torpid cast. But his crew are horrified, particularly his assistant (Bérénice Bejo). But wait. Why do these French people have Japanese names? Why is the acting so strange, and what’s with the final wobbly crane shot?
The answer is that this is supposed to be a continuous single-take movie lasting just 30 minutos, being filmed on the lowest budget imaginable: any mistakes, and they can’t just go back to first positions. They just have to improv it out. And once the curtain is lowered in this curious spectacle, flashbacks show us the bizarre compromises and negotiations that led up to this highly unlikely situation.
It’s an entertaining piece of work – and a genuine oddity, ostensibly about cinema, but more about the live theatre experience. It may yet have found a way to breathe new life into the zombie genre itself.